Q. I am so glad I found your website! I've been involved with a BPD off and on now for about seven years, and found myself self-destructing to the point that I have little or no motivation to be involved with other women. After being divorced from a 23 year marriage, I found myself living the best personal and professional life ever for about 3 years--with no end in sight. When we met, I avoided showing any outward attraction, even though the opposite was true. I "ran" from her so to speak, but she kept showing up--until next thing I knew, we were spending a lot of time together and in 3 months (against my better judgement) we got married. I could not believe all the attention and adoration I received--I'd never felt that way in my life and was overwhelmed with the rush of 'good luck' I had in finding someone who loved me so much! She would say; "I love you like my own child with all my heart--and we will never ever be apart." The first two years were the best ever, and then one day it seemed to start changing. Small things that initially seemed to go away--but then the conflicts didn't make any sense to me. Then she left me, and began an off and on again relationship. When we got back together it would be great for a few months, and then the cycle would repeat. She convinced me that it was my fault, and all I had to do was change and everything would be great--although what I gave up or changed was never enough! After separation and divorce (four years ago) she began showing back up about every three months, almost like she knew when I was getting along just fine without her--I even broke up with a girl, to go back to her. Anyway, can you tell me why she shows back up--and even though I know better, I can't seem to say "no" to her? I really want to move on, and get my self-confidence back. I want a good relationship with someone new--but I feel damaged and afraid to try again. Thank you.
A. Borderlines simply do what borderlines do. In the process, they reactivate early sense memories and ego wounds from boyhood. These pleasurable and painful sensations are remnants of early attachment difficulties with Mother, which are seldom remembered--but leave you with impaired self-esteem. My work with borderline battered men helps them overcome their trauma and confusion, and heal. Their ability to make healthier relational choices is a by-product of this process. You've been 'shooting in the dark' emotionally for awhile, which has trapped you in this frustrating cycle. Gaining insight about your compulsive draw to this female, and building genuine self-confidence is key to forming solid, gratifying attachments.
Q. Been in a marriage with an abusive borderline for over twenty years; I'm making moves to get out, but kids and financial worries are playing heavily on my mind. I'm a rescuer type who became ensnarled into her web of push/pull emotional gymnastics right after losing a previous girlfriend in a car crash. Looking back, I'm pretty sure she orchestrated my first child's 'conception,' because I was ready to leave. She's intelligent, pretty etc., but the lies, manipulation, violent behaviour and years of brainwashing have left their mark on me. My self-esteem is pretty low right now, and I have no friends or family for support (she's managed to surgically pare away any competing emotional attachments). I've been suffering from depression--and apparently, this is a pretty common symptom of staying in an abusive relationship. I know that she may respond to my leaving with violence--but leaving her is a risk I am willing to take (I have had guns pointed at me, been hit with a guitar, had threats to be poisoned or smothered in my sleep, etc.). Thanks for exposing this issue for what it is, and also for ignoring the political gender bias intrinsic to marital abuse issues. Reading the accounts of other men in my situation is really helpful to me, and makes me feel a little less isolated. PS: please don't respond by e-mail, as she reads it. (no surprise here, I'm sure).
A. Your request is being honored. Thanks for your valuable contribution.
Q. Are Borderlines capable of intimacy?
A. Intimacy is possible--but sustaining it isn't. There are times that you'll feel a deep bond or sense of connection with a Borderline, which is partly why they're so compelling! Unfortunately, the closer you get, the more attachment anxiety they experience--which triggers their need to distance. This raises your frustration and confusion, because the emotional ground keeps shifting (like a series of little earthquakes). It's normal/natural for you to begin guarding your emotions to feel safer, which makes them act-out even more--but this cycle will repeat despite your actions.
Q. Any advice on dating a man who's been destroyed by women with BPD? I've been seeing a man for 8 months but can't get close to him, because everything I say or do seems manipulative, controlling or psychotic. I'm in therapy so it doesn't drive me absolutely crazy and I start to believe it. It takes a toll on my self-worth after while. This is a LONG horrible process. The ex-girlfriend didn't even stop harassing us until 3 months ago, and she still tries to make contact. Please help if you can.
A. Honey, a love relationship is supposed to be enhancing to your life! What makes you want to be with someone who's so untrusting and damaged, you can't get close to him? I'm pretty certain this article will have meaning and value for you; www.GettinBetter.com/needlove.html. Make sure you read the final paragraph.
Q. If a borderline's issues are mostly related to rejection and abandonment, then why wouldn't the behaviors mitigate--or at least get better, once she'd gotten the next guy (rebound relationship) to actually marry her? Wouldn't his committing to her in this way, allay these abandonment fears?
A. The Borderline psyche is extremely intricate and fragile; attachment is terrifying, because it means having to be vulnerable, and surrender control. They want you close, but not too close--hence, their come here, go away behavior. It's only after they perceive you as their 'emotional mainstay,' that the distancing and/or abusing behaviors begin. This could take some time, but it typically starts after an episode of special closeness or connection, after marriage, after pregnancy occurs, after the first baby arrives, etc.
Q. My borderline ex-girlfriend lives out of state, but won't leave me alone! She keeps calling, text messaging and emailing me. I've been ignoring these until a few days ago, when she left a voicemail saying she was "worried" about me, and needed to know if I'm okay. I sent a brief email saying that I was fine--which seems to have set off a flurry of new calls. If she's really concerned about me, why'd she throw me away--and immediately hook up with another guy?!
A. This is typical Borderline Personality behavior. Be thankful that you've only been cyber-stalked, as Borderlines can show up unexpectedly at your work or home. Continue to disregard these efforts to engage you. As you've noticed, hitting the ball back across this net, only fuels her hopes that she can lure you back again, when it suits her. This recent call of 'concern' was about her needs, not yours. This attention may feel flattering/comforting--but it's also tormenting, which prevents you from healing and moving on. Send one last email if you wish, asking her not to contact you again. She'll have difficulty respecting this boundary, but you'll at least have let her know where you stand. Eventually, she'll tire of trying to get your attention, and may use some dramatic tactics beforehand, but don't give into them. No response is usually the best.
Q. Shari, why are personality disordered people more prone to having affairs or cheating on their partners?
A. There's an old saying within the psychological community; "A three legged table is more stable than a two legged one." It's tough to maintain healthy intimacy or relational stability with people who are personality disordered. Borderline and narcissistic individuals fear attachment/closeness; they may try to manage this concern with triangulation--which means that a behavior, substance or another person is used to distract from any difficult feelings the primary relationship invokes. Diversions often take the form of working longer hours, abusing alcohol/drugs/food, getting a new pet, bringing a baby into their dynamic or having affairs. Essentially, anything that diverts focus from the couple's connection, eases tension and attachment anxiety.
Q. I have apparently been dating a (Waif) Borderline. After noticing some troubling inconsistencies in her behaviors and doing internet research to understand them, I came across your pages. Your descriptions are incredibly astute--and it's eerie that you've nailed (with such accuracy), how I've been feeling in this relationship! This validation has helped me tremendously, but being a "rescuer" type, I don't want to give up on this woman just yet. Does it make sense to stay, and attempt to work through our various difficulties?
A. Dear Sir, this depends on your threshold for emotional pain, turmoil and frustration. Here's my sense of these things; as long as this prize is worth the price you're paying to remain, you'll probably stick around. Just be aware that you're consciously choosing to be with someone who's highly unstable; it tends to be contagious!
Q. Shari, your articles are so helpful! I've recently ended my relationship with a Borderline female. I'm beginning to regain my balance--but I still miss her, and keep wondering if I've made a terrible mistake. She has continued to make me feel like this failure was all my fault--and if I'd loved her "a little better" (which meant marrying her), we'd still be together. This is really haunting me, and my greatest fear (and torment) is that she's right, and I've too easily given up on something that had great value to me. Help!
A. Every man who has consulted me after his involvement with a Borderline expresses exactly what you have here, which is why this issue's discussed in my article. Borderlines cannot hold or retain loving gestures. Think of a drinking well that has a huge fracture at the bottom; you keep pouring water in, but the well never fills up. Shame is the Borderline's primary emotional state; when she berates you for not giving, doing or being enough, she's projecting her own shame onto you, and making you feel what she's lived with her entire life. At a core level, Borderlines feel unworthy of being loved; the more you demonstrate affection and caring, the less they respect you. Rejecting you eases their terror surrounding attachment and abandonment, and helps them maintain a sense of emotional safety. Marrying this kind of woman usually exacerbates this terror, and invites more acting-out behavior. Even if you'd loved her "better" (in her mind), this relationship would've had precisely the same outcome.
Q. Can Borderlines ever be healed?
A. Yes, some can. Within a nurturing, supportive/safe, growth-oriented therapeutic alliance, borderline disordered people can begin trusting another with their care. In my view, this requires considerable re-parenting work, which is best accomplished with a therapist who has deep compassion and understanding of core trauma, and the emotional scars (and defenses) that remain. With patience and time, these clients develop a stronger foundation/core, which enables trust in themselves and their ability to form healthier attachments.
Q. Dear Shari, just had to drop you a line to say how much I appreciated reading your article in regards to a relationship with a borderline woman. I felt as if my own story had been told with such clarity, and it was comforting to realize that I'm far from alone in this situation. It's truly something one has to experience in order to believe--and perhaps that's where it often gets difficult to handle, as others really can't appreciate the reality we're forced to confront. Keep up the great work. D. Winnipeg Canada
A. I'm pleased the article was helpful, and your feedback is appreciated. My work feels especially worthwhile, when men like you relate to this material, and discover they're not alone in their struggle.
Q. Wow. You just changed my life. As my Borderline Personality Disordered wife of 12 years (1st child out of wedlock) picked up speed (behaviors became more severe) I could only take notes on her patterns, because I was shocked and couldn't understand them. Typing in my palm pilot distracted me from the pain and helped me vent. Then I noticed a pattern in what I was observing, and I researched it on the internet. The psychologist who counseled us as a couple said: "Yeah, she's a borderline--I knew that a long time ago." I believe he thought I wasn't ready to hear it, or I'd ruin everything by telling my wife. Forums on the internet have helped me cope, and explain to my 12 and 5 year olds how to avoid conflicts and explosions. Well really, it can't be avoided I guess. I really feel that you have wisdom beyond everything I have seen on the borderline personality. Just reading your descriptions, I could feel your soul. I am desperate and don't know what to do. My wife is 48 and I am 36. I was fooled. I am stuck. I feel I'll never enjoy my life, and that any other lady I would try to marry, this one will torture too! I am concerned about my kids, and I don't know what the hell to do. At the same time, I am not sure I'm ready to do whatever it is, that needs to be done. I am still naive, and a prisoner with my two children. The encouragement from your web pages may push me on to a higher level. So, so scary.
A. Your letter is heartbreaking, like dozens of others I've received concerning this issue. I've been re-editing and expanding this Borderline article, and these changes have been posted. I'm so sorry for your difficulty, but what you must remember, is that you have options--even though it feels (right now) like you don't. We should talk.
Q. Is it true, that all Borderlines lacked a connection with their mother?
A. No. What's true, is that a healthy/sound connection wasn't possible. A Borderline's relationship with his/her mother can be enmeshed, if the child wasn't allowed to separate/individuate successfully. Borderline disordered women might intentionally conceive, in order to compensate for childhood abandonment trauma; their (misguided) fantasy that a baby will love them unconditionally and never leave, is met with disappointment and rage once he/she starts to develop, form peer relationships and discover their own separate interests. In the 2005 movie Loverboy, Kyra Sedgwick gives us a terrific performance, as an enmeshed Borderline mother. She's smothering, controlling and seductive; she continually over-inflates her child's ego, to defend against her own deficits/shortcomings. These types of mothers are emotionally incestuous--which keeps their children entwined, dependent and ambivalent/confused about appropriate emotional boundaries. The daughter of a woman with borderline traits may think of her mom as her best friend. If she "shares everything" with her mother, she may not have been able to acquire an autonomous sense of Self, which undermines adult attachments. Enmeshment issues are common with women who've given birth too young, particularly when addictions are/were present. Basically, their kids grow up having to 'parent' the mother, and miss out on being parented. Having been prematurely inducted into adulthood, they've skipped the normal stages of their development, which has them drawn to codependent relationships and addiction issues of their own.
Q. I've been unable to find an answer to this question, so I'm hoping that you can help. My fiance is divorced from a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder. They have two daughters (8 and 12). Unfortunately, since he's in the military she has primary physical custody, and she's chosen to live on a different continent. Her borderline acting-out behaviors include refusing him visitation periods with the kids, and parental alienation. He's been to court to address these problems with some success on the visitation issues (limited by her subsequent behaviors) but little success on the alienation. Neither his ex-wife nor the kids know about me. In light of our research on BPD and the tremendous problems his ex has caused with the kids, we chose not to fuel the situation by telling her of my existence until it was necessary. Given the distance between him and the kids, this has not been a problem. The one time my fiance got visitation, I stayed out of sight. We plan to be married next spring, and neither of us find it acceptable that I should move out while the kids visit for two months in the summer. My question is, what is the best way to tell everyone? Everything I've read says to tell an ex about a new spouse, so they can help prepare the kids. However, I have also read that (all) ex's have difficulties when their former spouses remarry, and that borderlines escalate these difficulties to massive proportions. Given her past behavior, I'm sure his ex will refuse him visitation this summer, and escalate the alienation to unfathomable new heights, if she's informed of me before the kids arrive. On the other hand, I think it would be really hard on the kids to meet me for the first time as their new stepmom, who they'll have to cohabitate with for the next two months! Forgetting everyone else's desires and well-being in this equation - what would be best for the kids?
A. You are very right to be concerned about how these kids will react to this news. Your fiance should initially pick up his daughters by himself when they arrive, and broach this topic as sensitively as possible. This can occur during a stop-off for some refreshments, as they're traveling on their way back to your home. It's important that you think of yourself as your husband's new wife, as opposed to the children's "new stepmom." This will help diffuse the situation in your own mind, and allow for a healthier getting acquainted period with the girls. Be authentic and kind with them, and they'll probably come to trust and like you. It appears they'll be having to adjust to being with two strangers, so your understanding and empathy are critical here. There's little that's more comforting for children to observe, than a warm, loving relationship between two adults--especially when they're accustomed to living in a war zone.
Q. My mother is very difficult to approach when something's bothering me about our relationship--she becomes defensive, angry or sad, and shuts down. Sometimes, she won't speak to me for weeks at a time, and other times she criticizes me on how ("poorly") I run my life. The result is, I always feel guilty/bad about upsetting her, and we can never seem to work through any problems. I love my mom, but I've learned that maintaining some distance feels safer/better for me. At times, she'll want to know what's going on in my life, but I've become very cautious about what I tell her. I'm usually sorry for having opened up, so I guess I've learned not to. I'd really like us to be closer, but don't know how to go about this. Any thoughts?
A. Your mom's reactions sound consistent with parents who have narcissistic and/or borderline traits. When you approach something she perceives to be a criticism, it may trigger a shame response, due to unresolved wounds from her childhood. In a sense, you've unwittingly stepped on an old (but active) land mine, which actually has very little to do with you! A couple of things usually occur when this happens: 1) She'll tend to react the same way her mother did, which made her fear and avoid open/honest dialogue. 2) These painful feelings that are left over from her childhood will be directed toward you, instead of where they belong! This can make you feel like you're walking on eggshells in this relationship, which always derails closeness and intimacy. Convey to her what you've shared with me. Handle this directly or in a note if necessary, and allow that she might have strong feelings about it. However she responds or reacts, you may choose to take it in, but do not take it on; in other words, stay with your feelings. If there's no response to your communication, you could try again--but you may ultimately have to come to terms with these limitations. In any case, solid therapeutic support can be very helpful with these issues.
Q. Hello Shari, I found your article on Borderline Personality Disorder through the link you sent with recent comments on Glenn Sacks' blog. The information you share on that page is absolutely fantastic! For years, I've heard men on our helpline describe these behaviors and characteristics in the women they're living with or have separated from, and it would be helpful to our website visitors to read your article. Would you allow us to link to it on our website? Here is the url: www.dahmw.org.
A. Absolutely! A close (male) friend once said; "when a woman hits a man, she's playing a man's game, and men react instinctively to violence." This isnot to excuse or condone violence to women, but far too many males have been physically and emotionally abused by personality disordered women, who lack impulse control, and any sense of boundaries.
Q. Shari, do borderlines easily detach from relationships? Your article seems to indicate otherwise.
A. Emotional cut-off is one of the common characteristics of this personality disorder. Generally, your relationship with a borderline feels either engulfing or abandoning, and this keeps shifting. At times, they may be very clingy and needy--and other times, they're rejecting, detached or indifferent. Borderlines can leave relationships (of any kind) abruptly. Essentially, their terror surrounding abandonment may prompt them to leave you, before you can do it to them. Some never attempt further contact--but many try to reconnect with former romances; the reasons for this are detailed here.
Q. I've read your article on Borderlines (several times), but I'm still confused about why men stay with these women, despite the conflicts and difficulties they face. Are they masochistic or something?
A. Borderlines can be irresistibly attractive, seductive/alluring and engaging. Men find them compelling, but an emotionally sound man tends to recognize an unhealthy dynamic pretty quickly, and (despite temptations to remain) can disengage and move on. A man with narcissistic traits views this "extraordinary" lover as a perfect reflection of himself and his worth. His grandiose nature makes him think he can "fix" the problems, and/or rescue this woman from her troubles. This attitude might be based on former romances with healthier (or more malleable) women, who didn't present such frustrating challenges. Falsely confident that deficits or difficulties with this woman can also be rectified, he continues striving for that which cannot be achieved (you can't have a functional relationship with a dysfunctional person). Furthermore, he's able to side-step his own attachment/engulfment fears by pursuing someone who's equally afraid of getting too close. His compulsion to stay and change his beloved, stems from early childhood. This is very common among males who derived their sense of self-worth and empowerment by taking on a mediating, fixing or rescuing role within their family of origin.
Q. In some of your writings, you mention the "Borderline Waif." I never knew there were several types of Borderlines! How is the 'waif' different from other (abusive) types described in books like, Mommy Dearest?
A. The Borderline Waif seldom (if ever) exhibits the harsh or volatile traits we've come to associate with other types, which is often why this disorder is overlooked by therapists. Waifs appear needful, fragile and victimized by life circumstances and relationships, and you could feel compelled to rescue them from their troubles! How Borderline Waifs interpret their difficulties can actually perpetuate their struggle, like believing they've fallen prey to a sort of karmic retribution; "I must have done something really bad in a past life, to deserve this!" When relationships fail, it's always considered the other's fault. The Waif mother makes her children feel responsible for her survival, well-being and mood. If Waifs engage therapeutic support, it's typically in the midst of a crisis; given they're inherently resistant to change or growth (which threatens their sense of control), their progress in therapy tends to be slow, and there are frequent setbacks and regressions. Helplessness is the Waif's core theme, so choices and options that are healthier or more productive, are frequently avoided. Maybe you've had a friend or lover who's always struggling with one drama or another, and you've repeatedly offered sound suggestions and tried to help--but to no avail. Basically, when you throw a life preserver to a Waif, he/she ignores or disregards it (throws it back), or resents the gesture. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother is the best source of information I've seen on this topic.
Q. Shari, I'm dating a man who's very moody, and I'm thinking he must have a bi-polar problem. Sometimes he's real sweet and loving to me, and other times he's critical, (verbally) abusive and cold. This shift in him is so unpredictable, I've gotten to the point where I'm not sure who will show up at my door when we go out. I've tried asking him what's wrong when he's in one of his mean moods--but it never does any good, and it's painful for me. I'm usually crying by the end of these dates, but then the next time I hear from him, he'll be all sweet again, and acting like nothing happened! I want him to get help for this problem, but I'm a little scared of his reaction if I suggest it. What do you recommend?
A. Sounds less like a bipolar issue than a Borderline Personality problem, which (in men) is characterized by a Dr. Jekyll - Mr. Hyde split in demeanor and temperament. When he perceives you're getting too close (or he is) he pushes you away with coldness or abuse; as soon as his attachment anxiety subsides, he comes closer again. You haven't mentioned how long you've been dating, but this trouble usually starts when a Borderline senses he/she has won you over (or married you)! Gently approach this topic when he's being more loving, and let him know how hurtful and emotionally dangerous it feels when he's the opposite. Ask if he's aware of these shifts in himself, and how much they impact your relationship. This seems more a psychotherapeutic issue than a medical one, but there could also be a chemical imbalance. Bottom line, pursuing this involvement could be even more painful and damaging, and you should seriously consider your options.
Q. Is it true that Borderlines try to seduce their therapists?
A. Yes some try, and this is their defense against feelings of vulnerability. Borderlines and Narcissists generally need to manipulate and control their relationships, and the therapeutic dyad is just another place this plays out. Abandonment and trust issues prompt fear surrounding attachment/intimacy, which is echoed in their resistance to feeling reliant on the therapist. Either personality type may try to "seduce" the therapist into liking them/finding them compelling, as (in their minds) this balances the playing field; "If I can get you to really like me, or regard me as a friend (or lover), I must be okay, and not need your help!" If the therapist is incapable of setting firm enough boundaries and allows the seduction, he/she is permitting the client to have the upper hand in their relationship. At that point, the question begs to be asked; who's paying whom--and for what, exactly??
Q. Thanks for your recent "newz tip," Shari. I found it hard to imagine that I would identify with Alec Baldwin's vicious outburst--but my elder son is 9, and given another two years with him 5,000 miles away, it's hard to say where our conversations will go! Alec has given me and, I suppose, many fathers an important warning - as have your e-mails and articles.
A. Glad to be of help! Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a heartbreaking issue, and no parent should be denied a loving connection with his/her child. A man's feelings of loss and sorrow at being amputated out of his child's life, are nothing short of excruciating for him. The rage that's prompted by such abuse, is in direct proportion to the level of pain and frustration that underlies it! I'm personally looking forward to the day when men start taking an offensive (rather than defensive) position, and counter sue for damages.
Q. Shari, for the past few weeks I've been dating a wonderful man I met through a girlfriend, and he's amazing; handsome, romantic, thoughtful, generous, the works! But all of a sudden, things feel different. He's stopped calling me every day, and this past weekend, I didn't even see him! I tried calling his cell phone a number of times to find out if we were getting together, or if something terrible had happened to him. No response. I'm worried, upset and confused. I keep wondering if I've done something that has made him distance, and it's killing me! Help!
A. First, this is not your fault (and your girlfriend may be able to fill in the blanks on his romantic history). Unless your man is lying unconscious in a hospital bed somewhere, sounds like you've met a Casanova; this man is highly skilled at seducing women, but may (secretly) distrust/despise them. Passive-aggressive behavior is typical for this kind of male, as his sense of self-worth is underdeveloped and fragile. Casanova's the male version of Borderline Personality; he's addicted to seducing, as it gratifies his ego and fuels his narcissism. He's incapable of sustaining interest, or connecting more deeply. Once he's aware of your surrender, he'll start feeling like you're getting too close (or he is), which triggers his need to distance emotionally and/or physically. It's tough to be with a guy like this, as his issues run much deeper than you could hope to rectify. After awhile, he may try to re-engage you, when he senses you've cooled down and it's 'safe' to return for more. Unfortunately, this is more about his pathological need to fortify his self-image and seduce, than about missing you. Your pain is devastating, and I'm sorry. But next time, try and remember; when a guy sweeps you off your feet, he may not be strong enough to keep from dropping you!